5 Signs You're Too Self-Critical

Are you harder on yourself than 40-grit sandpaper? Welcome to the esteemed yet insecure club of the highly self-critical. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 5 signs it’s time to release the pressure.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #218
image of a woman being self-critical and upset

Sign #4: You go it alone.

You’re independent, self-made, a one-person show. In a Western culture that prizes individuality, standing on your own two feet is glorified. But the flip side is that you can’t ask for help.

How are self-criticism and asking for help linked? In the self-critical part of our minds, asking for help means revealing weakness or deficiency, likely the same perceived weakness or deficiency we berate ourselves for. In short, the link is shame—we don’t want anyone else to see what we don’t like about ourselves, so we keep it under wraps by doing everything on our own.

Sign #5: You’re too humble.

Self-deprecation can be charming, but too much comes across as cringeworthy.

Especially when we’re trying something new or falling under possible scrutiny, there arises in our brain a sneaking suspicion that the day we’ve long dreaded is here; this is the moment we’ll be unable to rise to the occasion and be revealed as a fraud.

Being overly humble most often strikes bright, capable men and women who have been told since childhood that they’re smart, creative, attractive, and other positive labels, but they worry, what if the task before me reveals that I’m not? The secret will be out.

Who knew that the cure for feeling suffocated was giving yourself room to breathe.

Therefore, self-deprecation allows us to pre-emptively condemn ourselves before anyone else can. If we’re going to be revealed as a fake, at least we can be the one pulling off the cover.

All in all, a dash of self-criticism can be super helpful. It keeps us honest, keeps us from getting a big head, and drives us to do better. But too much perpetuates unhelpful lies, holds us down, and drives us into the ground. Not only does it not feel good, it doesn’t work.

The remedy? A healthy dose of self-kindness. A giant analysis of 79 different studies involving over 16,000 individuals found that self-compassion—a.k.a having a positive and caring attitude toward oneself in the face of failure and shortcoming—contributed to a happier life and greater well-being. 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us caught in a self-critical cycle think that easing up on ourselves will make us go as soft and squishy as a jelly doughnut. When you’re used to brass-knuckled brawls, being kind to yourself suddenly feels like a pillow fight. 

But kindness isn’t the same thing as laziness or weakness. Think of a great coach or a favorite teacher. Did you work hard for them because they went easy on you and let you off the hook? No, you busted your butt because they had high expectations, believed in you, and were encouraging, respectful, and kind.

So give it a shot. Be that coach or teacher to yourself for a day, an hour, or even just a few seconds. You may surprise yourself—who knew that the cure for feeling suffocated was giving yourself room to breathe.

Image of a self-critical woman © Shutterstock


About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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